Pope Francis and the universal Church are called upon to stop the closure of Catholic orphanages for mentally and physically disabled children. It is time to review the Sino-Vatican Agreement. After hopes were raised, everything is now being betrayed in the name of politics.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – The Chinese government is shutting down Catholic orphanages that have been appreciated for decades even by members of the Communist Party. The latest shutdown was reported yesterday when the House of Dawn in Zhaoxian was closed.
The Pope and the universal Church are urged to speak out in defence of orphans, as well as mentally and physically disabled children, who are now being sent to state facilities. In addition to the harm done to these children, suppressing the visibility of religion and the works of the Church harms the latter as well.
By looking at the orphanages that are shut down, Fr Wendao, a priest from northern China with several degrees and long internships abroad, also looks at the enthusiasm sparked by the China-Vatican Interim Agreement.
Recently, there is much concern about the closure of Catholic Church-run children’s homes. The latest to be shut down are the St Joseph’s Disabled Infant Home in Renqiu, Xianxian (Diocese of Cangzhou), and the Liming (Dawn) Home in the Diocese of Zhaoxian, both in Hebei province. Other places are Catholic-run orphanages in Zhangjiakou and Zhengding, both in Hebei. The same happened two years ago to an orphanage in Baoji, Shaanxi province, run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
These disabled children’s homes were respected and deeply loved by many Chinese; many caring people visited and served there, bearing good fruits of love to the Church and society. People learnt to care and respect God’s “little ones”.
I still remember that years ago, when I was forced to take sessions and become “reformed” at the Central Institute for Socialism, one professor shared her views after visiting Catholic orphanages for disabled children in Hebei.
She said those homes for children were well managed by the Catholic Church and solved some social problems. Abandoned children could be cared for.
“Catholic groups showed that what they did was for love, not profit,” she said. “The staff and the Catholic Sisters serving there deserve respect. The love shared with the abandoned children comes from their faith in God. It is uncommon and rarely seen in other sectors in society.”
Even though she was a communist, and an atheist, she acknowledged the services rendered by the Catholic Church to society.
Now, the government is not only ignoring the beautiful contribution and quality social services provided by the Catholic Church, but wants in fact to destroy them.
Government officials ordered the Sisters to stop providing orphanage services in order to transfer the orphans and disabled children from their orphanages to state-run facilities.
In the past, the same people could not be bothered to register the children’s names, let alone find any sense in doing so. Have they changed and become kind-hearted overnight?
It is clear that those government officials are not planning to serve abandoned children, but only to follow their senior officials’ political orders, namely to do everything possible to reduce the influence of the Catholic Church in China.
For this reason, at present, the government is relentlessly suppressing and imposing various measures of control on Catholic social services or Church life.
During the Holy Week and Easter days this year, many faithful from different parts of China have left messages that expressed their sadness that they could not participate in Holy Week liturgies. They said that they wanted to attend mass, but churches were locked down. If shopping malls and tourist attractions were open, why not churches?
It seems that that the epidemic is to blame, but in reality, the latter is being used to tighten the screws on the Church. Sadly, reports from Shanghai indicate that “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pilgrimage activities are not allowed in Sheshan, Shanghai” in May, the month usually dedicated to honouring and praising our Blessed Mother.
This crackdown is not limited to churches. Schools too have been involved. The government is tightening its grip over students and teachers, from elementary to university, in order to ensure that no religious or church-related activity occurs on their premises.
Some Catholics sent comments to me saying that schools were inquiring into the religion of students and teachers. Some of those who held a particular belief (especially Catholicism) were persuaded to drop out of school; others came under psychological pressures. Some teachers received threats about their future career, while others were subjected to hate attacks in public. The goal is to turn schools into religion-free areas, making students and teachers realise that it is better to have no religion at all.
Writing this reminds me of the China-Vatican Agreement. When it was reached, the Church in China felt encouraged. Everyone was waiting for that “better day” following the signing. Many church people cheered and many believers thought that the light would shine upon China. The media even began reporting that the Pope might visit China shortly.
In view of such hopes, Chinese Catholics gradually began to accept official bishops as Church pastors. An organisation not recognised by the Church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, became the official model, but this blurred things for the faithful. Some priests started to dream about becoming bishop, waving the agreement as a flag as if they were at the Beijing Liu'yin Street market, to their own benefit disregarding the interests of the Church.
All this is happening because of the China-Vatican agreement. The Agreement and the guidelines given to the Chinese Church by the pontiff after the agreement suggest that it is here to stay. Everyone was waiting for some concessions to Church authorities and in the overall interest of the Church, on the expectation that the Church would soon make more adjustments. Sadly, what happened next to the Church in China cooled the feelings of many believers.
Many churches have been dismantled, and children under 18 have been banned from taking part in Church activities. Some Church-related businesses (like bookstores, souvenir shops, etc.) have been shut down; minor seminaries have been closed. The Faith Press Weekly has been suspended, the Xinde (faith) Organisation was forced to toe the line. Every church has had to hang posters and flags to promote the Communist Party's ideas. Last but not least, all public religious celebrations have been banned because of the pandemic.
In the past, when such things happened, the Chinese Church was eager to encourage and support the universal Church. Now, because of this “Agreement”, the Pope's voice of justice has been silent. Significantly, the episcopal see of Hong Kong has been vacant since Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung passed away. This is quite unusual for the Church. Some in the Church are saying that this is because of the China-Vatican provisional agreement. Despite the protests by millions against Hong Kong's extradition bill and the ongoing persecution, the Holy See has been silent.
Although China is the most important missionary zone for the Church in Asia, Church affairs in China are no longer handled by the Congregation of Evangelisation of Peoples, which is responsible for missionary work, but are now in the hands of the Secretariat of State, the political arm of the Holy See. The actions of the Church have become political in order to serve political ends. This is why Cardinal Pietro Parolin said: “With China, our current interest is to normalize the life of the Church as much as possible, to ensure that the Church can live a normal life, which for the Catholic Church is also to have relations with the Holy See and with the Pope.”
Cardinal Parolin’s optimism stems from the signing of the provisional agreement. Based on this mindset, everyone became confident, especially those bishops who hold “public office,” their voices of celebration and confidence concealing the real life of the Church, which is one of persecution, and covering all the voices full of painful emotions.
People who believe in Christ are a minority in China. They are often discriminated against and suppressed. It is difficult for the outside world to hear their voices. Now, with the alternative shouts of the bishops who hold a “public office”, their true voices will go unheard even more.
Most of the children cared for by the Sisters are disabled, some physically, others mentally. They need more care than others; abandoned by parents and society, they are burdened by physical and emotional pain. Against all these injustices, they have only the weakest of voices, and now, in light of such a heavy reality, will the universal Church remain silent and ignorant of their call for help?
As a final point, I would like to ask you, our Holy Father of the universal Church: Can you hear the weakest and truest voiced of the Church in China?